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21: Checkmate

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Author Topic: 21: Checkmate  (Read 51 times)
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« on: March 18, 2023, 02:36:52 am »

"L'honneur n'existe que pour ceux qui ont de l'honneur."

Two or three days later I received a telegram from Sander, couched in the abrupt language affected by that keen-witted individual:

"Ask John Turner if he knows Devar."

The great banker's affairs were at this time of such moment that it seemed inconsiderate to trouble him with my difficulties. Also I was beginning to learn a lesson which has since been more fully impressed on my mind---namely, that there is only one person whose interest in one's affairs is continuous and sincere---namely, one's self. John Turner was a kind friend, and one who, I believe, bestowed a great affection upon a very unworthy object; but at such a time, when France seemed to be crumbling away in the sight of men, it was surely asking too much that I should expect him to turn his thoughts to me. I called, however, at the hotel where he had established himself, and there learnt from his valet that my friend was in the habit of quitting his temporary abode early in the day, not to return until evening.

"Where does he lunch?" I asked.

"Sometimes at one place, sometimes at another---wherever they have a good chef, sir," the man replied.

I bethought me of my own club and its renown. Come peace or war, I knew that John Turner never missed his meals. I left a note asking him to take luncheon with me at the club on the following day, to discuss matters of importance and meet a mutual acquaintance. I invited him fifteen minutes later than the hour named to Mr. Devar, and in the evening received his acceptance. As I was walking down St. James Street the next morning I met Alphonse Giraud.

"Will you lunch with me at the club," I said, "to-day, at one. I want to give you every facility to carry out your scheme to keep an eye on me."

Poor Alphonse blushed and hung his head.

"John Turner will be there," I said, with a laugh, "and perhaps we may hear something that will interest you---at all events, he will talk of money, since you are so absorbed in it."

So my luncheon party formed itself into a rather queer partie carrée; for I knew John Turner's contempt for Alphonse, and hoped that he might cherish a yet stronger feeling against Devar.

At the hour appointed that gentleman arrived, and was pleased to be very gracious and patronising. His manner towards me was that of a man of the world who is kindly disposed towards a country bumpkin. I received him in the smaller smoking-room, where we were alone, and were still sitting there when Alphonse came. It was quite evident that the little Frenchman appreciated the great English club.

"Now, in Paris," he said, "we copy all this. But it is not the same thing. We have our clubs, but they are quite different---they are but cafés---and why?"

He looked at us in the deepest distress.

"Because," I suggested, "you are by nature too sociable. Frenchman cannot meet without being polite to each other, so the independence of a club is lost. Englishmen can share a cabin, and still be distant."

"The furniture is the same," said Giraud, looking round with a reflective eye, "but there is a different feeling in the air. It is different from the Paris clubs. Do you know Paris, Monsieur Devar?"

Devar paused. "Of course, I have been there," he replied, looking at the carpet. "What Englishman has not?"

And he was still saying pleasant things of the capital, when the button-boy brought me John Turner's card. I told him to bring the gentleman upstairs, and remember still the odd feeling in the throat with which I heard Turner's step.

The door was thrown open. The boy announced Mr. John Turner, and for a brief moment Devar's eye meeting mine told me that I had another enemy in the world. The man's face was mottled, and he sat quite still. I rose and shook hands with John Turner, who had not yet recovered his breath. Alphonse---ever polite and affable---did the same. Then I turned and said:

"Let me introduce to you Mr. Devar---Mr. John Turner."

Turner's face, at no time expressive, did not change.

"Ah!" he said, slowly---"Mr. Devar of Paris."

There was a short silence, during which the two men looked at each other, and Alphonse shuffled from one foot to the other in an intense desire to keep things pleasant and friendly in circumstances dimly adverse.

"Mr. Devar," repeated Turner, "let me draw your attention to the door!"

There was nothing dramatic about my old friend. He never forgot his stoutness, and always carried it with dignity. He merely jerked his thumb towards the door by which he had entered.

Devar must have known Turner better than I did. Perhaps he knew the sterner side of a character of which I had only experienced the kindness and friendship, for he stood with a white face, and never looked at Giraud or myself. Then he shrugged his shoulders and walked slowly towards the door, his face wearing the sickly smile of the vanquished.

"Is that what you invited me for?" asked my old friend, when the door had closed behind Devar.

"Partly."

"But I suppose we are to have some luncheon?"

"Yes; there is some luncheon."

"Then let us go to it," said Turner, with his watch in his hand. But before we had reached the door, Alphonse had placed himself in Turner's way, looking as tall as he could.

"Mr. Devar is my friend," he cried, with a dramatic gesture and a fierce snatch at that side of his moustache which invariably failed him at crucial moments.

"Then, my dear Giraud," said Turner, laying his fatherly hand on the Frenchman's shoulder, "say nothing about it. It is no matter for pride. Devar was once my clerk, and would now be doing penal servitude if I had not let him off. Shall we go to luncheon?"

But Alphonse was not to be mollified, and during a meal, of which Turner duly appreciated the merits, concealed his annoyance with a tact truly French. He was a little more formal in his speech---a little more ceremonious in manner, and John Turner ignored these signs with a placid assurance for which I was grateful.

"Where did you pick up Devar?" asked the banker, when the edge of his appetite had been blunted by cold game pie.

"He picked me up," answered I; and went on to explain how this gentleman had forced himself upon us, and how Sander had given me a plain hint how to rid myself of him.

"Of course," said John Turner, "he is in league with Miste, and has been keeping him informed of your movements. If you see Devar again, kick him. I had that pleasure myself once, but I'm afraid you will never get the chance. The man has had a finger in every Anglo-French swindle of the last ten years. He dares not show his face in Paris."

We continued to talk of Mr. Devar and his liabilities, of which the least seemed to be the risk of a kicking from myself. The man had, it appeared, sailed too near the wind of fraud on several occasions, and John Turner held him in the hollow of his hand.

Alphonse, however, was not to be appeased. His honour had, as he imagined, been assailed by this insult to one upon whom he had bestowed his friendship, and he took no part in our talk when it was of Devar.

Turner did not stay long after we had finished our wine.

"No," he said, "if I do not keep moving I shall go to sleep."

When he had left us, Alphonse showed a restlessness which soon culminated in departure, and I sat down to write to Sander. The rapid exit (which ultimately proved to be as complete as it was sudden) of Mr. Devar could not fail to have some bearing on the quest in which Sander was engaged, and I now recapitulated in mind many suspicious incidents connected with the well-dressed adventurer who had so easily found an entrée to Isabella's house.

Alphonse went, as I later learnt, straight to Hyde Park Street, and found Isabella alone. For Madame de Clericy and Lucille were regular in their attendance at a neighbouring Roman Catholic Church, whither many Frenchwomen resorted at this time to pray for their friends and country.

"Howard," said Alphonse, "has grossly insulted Mr. Devar. In my country such an incident would not pass without bloodshed."

And he related, with considerable fire, the scene in the smoking-room at the club.

"But it was Mr. Turner and not Dick who insulted Mr. Devar."

"That is true, but Howard planned the whole---it was a trick, a trap."

"A clever trap," said Isabella, with her incomprehensible smile. "I did not know that Dick had the wit."

"Mr. Turner appears to have known Devar before," explained Alphonse, "and seemed to have some cause for complaint against him, though I do not believe all he said. And now Howard wantonly insults one of your friends, a gentleman who has dined in this house. He takes too much upon himself. If you will only say the word, Miss Gayerson, I will quarrel with Howard myself."

And Isabella, as Alphonse subsequently told me, received this offer with an ill-concealed smile.

"Dick is not afraid of the responsibility," she said, and did not appear so resentful as her champion.

"But why did he do it?"

Isabella did not answer at once, and Alphonse, whose good heart invariably tricked his temper, made a suggestion.

"Is it because he thought Mr. Devar no fit friend for yourself, Miss Gayerson?"

Isabella laughed derisively before she did me another wrong.

"He does not trouble about me or my affairs," she answered. "No, it is because Mr. Devar is too clever a person to be a welcome observer of Dick's actions. Dick probably knows that Mr. Devar is an expert in money matters, and less easy to deceive than yourself and a few ignorant and trusting women."

"You mean in the matter of my fortune?"

"Yes," replied the friend of my childhood. "It is probable that Mr. Devar suspects what others suspect. But you are so simple, Monsieur Giraud!"

Alphonse shrugged his shoulders.

"It is not that---Mademoiselle," he said with his light laugh. "It is that I am a fool."

Isabella was not looking at him, but at her quiet hands clasped together on her lap.

"We all know," she said, "that Dick is supplying Madame de Clericy with money that does not come from her estates. Whence does it come?"

"You suggest," said Alphonse, "that Howard has recovered my money and is supporting Madame de Clericy and Lucille with it."

What answer Isabella would have made to this I know not, for it was at this moment that the servant threw open the door and ushered me into a silence which was significant even to one of no very quick understanding. I saw that Alphonse Giraud was agitated and caught a singular gleam in Isabella's eyes. I suppose she was one of those women who take pleasure in stirring up strife between men. Her cheeks had a faint pink flush on them that made her suddenly beautiful. I had never noticed her looks before.

It was Alphonse who spoke first.

"There are several points, Monsieur," he said, angrily, "upon which I demand an explanation."

"All right---but I am not going to quarrel with you, Giraud."

I looked very straight at Isabella, whose eyes, however, did not fall under mine. But I think she knew that I blamed her for this.

"You have insulted a friend of Miss Gayerson's."

"A matter," was my reply, "which rests between Miss Gayerson and myself. I have rid her house of a scoundrel---that is all."

I thought Isabella was going to speak, but she closed her pale lips again and glanced at Alphonse.

"You have been supplying Madame de Clericy with money during the last six months?" said he.----

"Yes."

"Your own money?"----

"Most certainly"---and I was soft-hearted enough to omit reminding him that he owed me a thousand francs.

"You have repeatedly told me," pursued Alphonse, who seemed to be nursing his anger into an artificial life, "that you are penniless. Whence comes this money?"

"I borrowed it."

"And if Madame de Clericy fails to repay you, you will be ruined?"

"Precisely."

"And you ask me to believe that," laughed Giraud, scornfully.

"No," answered I, going towards the door, for my temper was rising, and there remained but that way of avoiding a quarrel. "You may do as you like."

As I turned to close the door I caught sight of Isabella's face, and it wore a look that took me back to school holidays, when she and I wandered in the Hopton woods together, and were, I dare say, sentimental enough.

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